Monday, September 4, 2017

PitchWars Critique - ETERNITY THEN

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit this feedback.

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  

Dear Ms. Whatsit,

Boston, 1913, is rife with ghosts, and fifteen-year-old Tessa Ward is one of them. Great first sentence! After she and her brother Jack are killed in a car accident in 2005, they are catapulted back in time to spend their afterlives in the Progressive Era. Hmm... okay, I feel like there needs to be some reason for this. It feels really random and makes me worry that the worldbuilding will not make sense. Death isn’t always the bummer that Tessa thought it would be, How is death not a bummer, specifically? but she’s convinced that 1913 isn’t her final resting place. Why? She makes it her mission to find out what comes next and take her afterlife into her own hands. Specifically how?

At seventeen, Sylvia Howland develops the ability to speak to the dead. She befriends Tessa, who pushes her to break the norms of her native time: kiss a boy first, “haunt” a house, and say what's on her mind. I feel like "say what's on her mind" feels a bit anti-climatic after the house "haunting a house" thing, which honestly feels like something that would also break norms today. Her new friendship provides a welcome distraction from strife at home what sort of strife?, but Sylvia is soon plagued by frightening hallucinations and psychic powers she cannot control. What specifically happens here? Afraid her family will have her institutionalized if she comes clean, comes clean about what? the powers or hallucinations? Sylvia keeps her new abilities to herself even as they threaten her sanity.

United by circumstance, Sylvia and Tessa push each other’s buttons and push each other forward. But as they grow closer, Tessa’s relationship with her brother deteriorates. Dissatisfied with his ghostly existence, Jack finds a way to get his life back, but it means taking someone else’s. Tessa doesn’t want to lose her brother, the only connection to her old life, but instead of but feels like this should be "and she is also unnerved..." she is unnerved by the dark implications of murder. She turns to Sylvia, and the two work together to find a way to stop Jack through supernatural means. Sylvia is determined to help her friend, but while uncontrolled, her mystical powers threaten all three of their souls. Threaten all three souls how specifically? What is at stake? If it all goes wrong they'll end up in hell?

ETERNITY THEN is a 89,000-word young adult historical fantasy with a potential for sequels I would either say "a sequel" or "series potential" if your intention is to have more than two. I have a master’s degree in publishing and writing from Emerson College, and I currently work as an assistant editor for American Art Collector and American Fine Art Magazine.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Tessa never thought there would be fog. Not that she spent a whole lot of time contemplating it, but fog seemed like a cliché. It was an all-consuming, impenetrable miasma, and she was completely alone. I don't think this is a strong beginning. I don't know who Tessa is or where she is. All I know is that there's fog and it's unexpected, which is frankly not all that interesting.
She and her older brother Jack had been driving back from their dad’s in the suburbs on a clear, cold-for-April day, and then bam! Fog. I think you should slow down here and let the story breath a little more. It feels like you want to rush into the action but it'd be better to set the scene. I like the driving back from dad's and cold for April day. Give me more. Is the radio on? Are they chatting? Arguing? Is the car nice or a beater? Is the traffic heavy or light?
The car had disappeared completely. No longer strapped into the passenger seat, Tessa stood, isolated by the gray. She groped around in the nothingness, hoping to get a sense of where she was, but the thick haze didn’t abate. “Jack!” she yelled. Her voice didn’t sound like her own. It was muffled and warbling, like she had yelled from underwater, only bubbles coming out. She tried again, “Jack! Jack, where are you?” This time, the sound came out a little more…solid. I want to get a little closer to Tessa - even w third person you can let the reader into her head and how she's feeling. Is she shaking? Does her stomach hurt? Does she feel panicked?
But there was still no Jack. Just fog.
She tried to steady herself and ran through the circumstances in her mind. They were merging onto the highway and an eighteen-wheeler in front of them had lost control, spinning out. It hit the passenger’s side of the car first. Woh! This is a pivotal moment. Again, slow down, really bring us into the moment. There was no way she had survived. How does she immediately know this? But maybe Jack had.
She gave it one more shot, screeching his name into the void. “Jack!”
And then, he came barreling out of nowhere. Literally. He hadn’t been anywhere one second and then the next he was right there, grasping her arms so tight that it should have hurt, but it didn’t.
“Tess.” There were tears in his wild, desperate eyes and streaming down his face. “Tessa, I’m so sorry,” he said, burying his face in her shoulder. “It was all my fault.” The brother reads as really young here. Again, it'd be nice to have a sense of who he is before this so we know if this is totally out of character for him or not.
Tessa didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t even bring herself to return the embrace. She just hung there in his arms while he sobbed against her. “I wonder who will tell Mom and Dad,” she said finally. I like this bit. Would be nice to have her imagine the scene.

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